Monday, March 4, 2013

Origins of Mafia

The MAFIA society is over 600 years old.  It started in 1282 in Palermo when Sicily was under French rule. On Easter Monday, during the evening prayer (vespers), a Frenchman harassed a Sicilian girl. I should mention that there are different accounts of the harassment, as to who the woman was, and who the Frenchman was. In fact, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on May 3, 1891, that a beautiful young girl and her fiancé (betrothed) had approached the Church of the Holy Spirit in order to be united in marriage. As the custom dictated the groom went to look for the father of the bride in a room at the back of the church. While the bride was waiting in front, a drunken French sergeant threw his arm around her waist and with the other hand grabbed her breast.  The poor girl, overtaken by fear, started to scream and tried to run away.. Unfortunately, her shoe got caught in the crack of a stone pavement and she fell, hitting her head against the corner of the church building. At that very instant her betrothed arrived and, seeing his future wife down and bleeding, took his stiletto and drove it into the assailant’s chest crying Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela.”(Death to France is Italy’s Cry). As you can see the word MAFIA is an acronym formed from the first letters of the above Italian phrase. This incident infuriated all Sicilians who started to form secret societies who took up arms against the French who had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily with a very repressive regime since 1266. In fact this insurrection led to the so called War of the Sicilian Vespers which ended with their expulsion in 1302 with the Treaty of Caltabellotta.

The Mafia in America is believed to have been started by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who fled to New York following the murder of a banker in Sicily. In the 1920’s, when Mussolini tried to eradicate the Mafia, many members of the secret society fled to America.  It doesn’t surprise me to read that during W.W.II, the Mafia collaborated with the Allies once they landed in Sicily.
In fact, they freed all anti-Mussolini prisoners including many society members. Once some were placed in positions of power, they started to make deals with politicians. If you look at the present political situation in Italy and at the number of politicians accused of corruption, you understand when it all started..

1 comment:

  1. You might add that Verdi's opera I vespri siciliani is based at least partly on this uprising.